Life Lessons from the Library:Be Gentle with Other People’s Treasures

Several times a semester someone calls to see if we want their old books. Many times, this is an emotional process. A parent, grandparent, husband, wife, or lover has died, and the person left behind is finally cleaning out the house. In some cases, the books are the last thing to go. No one is quite sure what to do with them.

The dilemma is this: no one in the family actually wants the books. But they are not valuable enough to sell. And there is just something about books that keeps people from simply stuffing them in the trash.

That’s when they call us. Now our policy is simple. We look them over, keep the ones we can use, and put the rest out on the give-away cart. For many people, that’s enough. They can honestly say they dealt fairly with Uncle Fred’s books.

These books come in various shapes and conditions. Recently, we opened box after box of books that had stayed in a garage for several months. Mold had gotten to some. What interested me the most was the number of perfectly preserved dead spiders that kept falling out of the pages. We debated for awhile whether they were brown recluses, but since we never came across a live one, we let it go.

When you are given another person’s library, you can often see changes that person has gone through over the years. There are boxes of how to make it through a divorce, how to deal with a difficult teenager, and sometimes the saddest of all, what to do when the diagnosis says cancer. I can’t help wondering sometimes if the person even remembered the feelings that went along with those books bought ten or twenty years earlier.

Recently, I talked with a woman who had lost her lover of several years. He’d died a couple of years ago, but she was just now getting to the point where she could go through  his books, his books being his most precious possessions. She wanted them to go to a place that would love and appreciate them as much as he did. Well, that’s what she said, but I suspect that she really wanted someone to love them as much as she loved him.  They turned out to be mostly science fiction and computer books, not something that we needed on our shelves. So now I must call her and tell her that we can give them away to students, but we can’t love them as much as she does. And she’ll have to keep searching for a better home for them.

There is a lesson to be learned learned from accepting other people’s books. Treasures come in all forms, and when someone offers to share theirs with you, it is your duty to be as gracious, gentle, and honored in the receiving as they were in the giving.

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